Linux

Major game players come to Linux and GNOME grasps at relevance

What would you say if I said GNOME was becoming irrelevant and games were coming to Linux? Both seemed improbable. Could 2012 wind up being a milestone year for Linux?

That is one headline I never thought I'd type.  I'm not really that much of a gamer, so the first part never captured my attention as much -- but the recent announcement that video game developer Valve would port its games to Linux made me rethink the possible conequences. The second part? Suffice it to say, I never thought I'd see the GNOME desktop struggling like it has.

Let's deal with GNOME first.

I started using the GNOME desktop when it was still in beta. It suffered from some growing pains, but eventually the GNOME desktop became one of the best of the best. But then, as is inevitable within the world of the desktop PC, change occurred. Now, I am one that eagerly welcomes change. I like to switch it up -- and do so consistently. I was pleased that the GNOME developers took the desktop metaphor into a completely different and unknown space.

But the vast majority of end users didn't see it that way. And, in the end, even welcoming users like myself found the GNOME 3 desktop to be lacking in some areas. This was a huge turn of events, seeing as how when Ubuntu Unity first arrived the initial reviews panned the desktop for being a horrible mistake. Now it seems that turn-around has become the name of the game. Unity has become one of the more efficient desktops and GNOME 3 -- well, has been showing signs of irrelevance.

And now the GNOME developers are making their 20/20 claim-- they want twenty percent of the desktop by 2020. This is a rather bold claim, considering GNOME 4 will only be a tweak or two away from GNOME 3, and by 2020, Ubuntu Unity will probably be the de facto standard on most Linux desktops and tablets.

What the GNOME developers are failing to see is that, as they spit-shine and polish the GNOME 3 desktop so that it's incredibly stable (and it is), it still seriously lacks in efficiency. So instead of tweaking GNOME 3 for GNOME 4, they might consider ways to make GNOME 4 a bit more efficient (add something akin to the Unity Launcher or some such).

Of course, we all could see this coming. What we couldn't see coming is Valve announcing they were going to port Steam to Linux. What is Steam? Steam is the gaming platform that makes games like Left For Dead, Ghost Recon, Borderlands, and more happen. Valve decided to port the engine to Linux because of what they are claiming will be the "Windows 8 Catastrophe".  Valve sees the upcoming Windows release as an impending doom that will drive top-tier PC makers away from the market and be a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. To this end, they have decided to port Steam to Linux and have a fully featured Steam engine for Ubuntu 12.04. The first game to come to Linux will be Left For Dead 4.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't previously put much stock in the gaming industry with regards to pushing the desktop forward. After reading about what Valve had to say about the situation, I have rethought that stance. But my stance isn't so much about how the gaming industry drives desktop software, as much as it is that they drive desktop hardware. No, this isn't a thought that is even remotely groundbreaking or new, but to the world of Linux -- it is. The possibility that games could begin a slow migration to the Linux platform means that hardware vendors would be forced to open up the specs for their hardware. This means the Linux distributions would benefit greatly and could grow leaps and bounds, faster and farther than the Windows platform.

The fully-functioning Valve for Linux will arrive by the end of 2012. Games will follow. This could mean great things for Linux in 2013. First it could start with the gaming industry and then, thanks to the collateral damage done by Windows 8, the desktop.

What do you think? Can GNOME manage to pull itself out of the dark pit of irrelevance and can the release of Valve to Linux make a major impact for the Linux desktop? Me? I think GNOME is going to have to do some major rethinking of its current working metaphor before it can once again gain traction. As for the adoption of Linux by Valve? Well, only time will tell... but I believe this will be one giant leap forward for the acceptance of Linux on the desktop.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

65 comments
Slayer_
Slayer_

I thought I'd bump this since there is no new article about it. Steam for Linux is now in beta, and they had 60,000 applicants for the private beta testing. Apparently the testing is going well, with only minor issues in both the client and the games. Also, Apparently nVidia released new drivers that doubled their performance over the previous version for Linux. So it looks like nVidia is starting to put some bets on Linux as well.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I doubt many gamers are going to want to pay twice for their games. Dev's would have to make free ports of their games for this plan to work. Otherwise, gamers are going to be forced to duel boot, which will end up with them just sticking with Windows.

apotheon
apotheon

The survey options were about what's most important -- GNOME being relevant to the Linux world, games being ported to Linux, "both", or "neither". I think that games being available on open source OSes is important, so "neither" doesn't work. I don't think that keeping GNOME relevant is important, so it's not "both", either. There's another answer I wish was on that survey, though, because I would have chosen that: I think that GNOME rapidly being consigned to the dustbin of history would be *great* for the world of open source OSes.

jkiernan
jkiernan

[i]"... by 2020, Ubuntu Unity will probably be the de facto standard on most Linux desktops and tablets."[/i] Oh man, I'm still laughing....

gathagan
gathagan

Steam is merely a digital delivery system. The bigger hurdle is porting the games themselves to Linux, and that's going to take a LOT more work. Since Valve does not own all of the content available on Steam, Valve has no control beyond its own games with regard to that porting. As others have mentioned, the biggest gaming issue on Linux is that of robust video drivers. The Linux community , AMD and NVIDIA have a long history with regard to closed source drivers, and both sides have valid points. I hope this will be the first step in a new direction for that issue, but I'm not holding my breath.

joshp1
joshp1

Finally a big company that's not opensource is paying attention to Linux I personaly use Unity not Gnome. Unity is customizable it just takes more work to do it. Another thing it isn't required for apps and games to be opensource they ask you to make it opensource. url for the source code:http://unity.ubuntu.com/getinvolved/development/unity/#code-layout

emenau
emenau

At least Gmome3 enables you to actually work with the OS. Something that Unity doesn't allow... For nice looks go to a miss world contest. Or install Unity, just don't expect you get any work done...

Greg Mix
Greg Mix

"The possibility that games could begin a slow migration to the Linux platform means that hardware vendors would be forced to open up the specs for their hardware." nvidia has had good driver support for Linux for years, but as far as I know they are still all proprietary drivers. Hardware support will probably continue to increase, but I don't see most manufacturers open sourcing hardware specs, and open source drivers for such devices will continue to be limited.

anil_g
anil_g

because all enterprise operations have moved to the cloud and I.T. departments no longer care what device you've got because there's no intranet any more.

rouse01
rouse01

I've been a redhat/fedora user from RH5 and have always run the GNOME desktop. But besides for the reasons you mentioned, I've grown increasingly more annoyed with the cartoonish look of the desktop. I've just blown off Fedora at home and am using Ubuntu Unity, which I really like. As far as the news about Valve, I used to run Valve game dedicated servers. I can't wait to see what's coming down that pike!

cra69_2000
cra69_2000

I like how this site degrades operating systems with people who don't know crap. First of all the desktop is not about IT it's about the end users. I have helped several people install W8 and they loved it. I even like it not as much as my Mac but its better than what we had. Just as this bunch talks crap about Mac and they are still selling like crazy. They talk about IPad and yet they are making money like crazy. Does IT influence this no they hate it but guess what people love it. Linux will not ever make it until they decide on a standard desktop that people like ans that is as easy as Mac, W8 and that's the facts. IT can cry and whine all they want but in all reality they do not matter the end user matters.

flhtc
flhtc

Personally I think anything that can bring Linux some positive attention is a good thing. There are enough users on both the productivity and gaming sides to bring it together. The question should not be what's relevant, but what will make it better. Better drivers will obviously make better gaming, but by the same token will help graphic designers, artists, CAD and on and on. Vise versa, better software will make it much more of a no brainer to write better drivers. I also think that anyone who wants to see a particular piece of software or drivers on Linux should write the manufacturer. Enough requests will at least spark some thought on their part. I really don't think that most of the developers know just how man people use Linux. Just my .02

TheKandiman
TheKandiman

I'm a big fan of certain online games and they are the ONLY reason I still use Windows. I think the drive to support gaming on Linux, regardless of flavor, will be a very good thing. As more support is provided for mass market users, the shift will become more apparent and pick up pace. On the DM side, I've found gnome to be my personal favorite, but cinnamon, kde, lxde are all very nice too. Unity is far too awkward for my work style and lack of native customization is a deal-breaker. I typically work in a multi monitor configuration and the unwieldy management for that type of setup just gets my goat. Ni!

abakalidis
abakalidis

I tried it and still feel that KDE is way more elegant and handy. However this is my opinion and since Linux gives everyone a big variety of desktops to choose from I really fail to see what the fuss is all about. In addition I would understand people who say they like GNOME, LXde, Xfce or just plain X with twm. It;s only a matter of taste. With games it's a different story. I am convinced that they are one the most certain methods to attract more people to Linux and I would honestly like to see more being ported. Perhaps this will give me a good reason to stop playing Shi-Shen-Sho :-)

paulfx1
paulfx1

Then decides to write yet another article that shows he doesn't know Jack about Linux. Linux has already done the games thing. But if you weren't around back then, or blinked you might have missed Loki's phoenix-like performance flaming out trying to crack the Linux market. Maybe Valve will succeed where others have failed though. I don't know. Things do seem different with Linux today compared to back then. Like this whole desktop obsession that appears to have grown up over time. Used to be you grabbed a bunch then changed your window manager now and again, as if it was wallpaper. Now people act like you need to pick one, then stick with it. I am thinking Linux could use another new Window Manager project. Both KDE and Gnome seem to have rode off their rails to me. If enough folks are unhappy with the present crop of choices then someone will make something new. That is how Linux is supposed to work. Scratch your own itch. Linux doesn't need games because Linux is the game, so run it to win! I'm an Xbill God BTW http://i.imgur.com/A1UKK.jpg Slap, slap, slap, slap ....

tcfranks
tcfranks

Unity? Nope.....I tried, really I did. I much prefer Mint. Not nearly the issues with drivers, plus, I found Unity obtuse. I was always hunting for the app I wanted, and just lost patience.

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

It seems to me that what we hear today about Gnome is exactly what we heard about KDE and is also what we heard about Unity. It also seems to me that this is normal for Open Source, non-commercial software. See without the burden of having to market a "product" for sale, open source developers can release their software earlier than commercial producers like Microsoft. They can let the community flesh out which features are missing, which need more polish and which can be removed. I always look at the first release of a major OS redesign as the equivalent of a commercial Beta. I find it ironic that the very thing Linux users grand stand on (E.G. how much better their software is because of the community) is the one thing they overlook when a new change comes.

Odipides
Odipides

But we hates it Baggins! Nasty, tricksy, evil Canonical.

rickmaines
rickmaines

I believe Gnome will be relevant again. I don't use it personally, at least not now, but it's always been a very good go-to option. Beyond that, I think it NEEDS to be relevant. Linux is about choices. Linux Mint is a good choice for a Linux desktop, but I don't agree that Ubuntu will not be as relevant. There are too many organizations, big and small, and second-tier distros based on it. And Canonical is pushing the limits, with plans for Ubuntu on Android and Ubuntu TV, among other projects. I'm with Jack on the games things. I don't play games. My kids do, and so far Windows 8 is a train wreck where that's concerned.

adimauro
adimauro

Linux Mint has quickly risen among the Linux ranks, and even surpassed Ubuntu, according to DistroWatch. They have their own interface called Cinnamon which is still fairly new, but getting a lot of attention. I don't think Ubuntu is going to be the de facto anything in the future. What I find amazing, despite the popularity of Linux Mint among Linux users (I also use Mint), you almost never hear about it outside of the Linux community. No books mention it, very few articles (like this one) ever mention it. And yet, just from word of mouth, it has become as popular (or even more?) than Ubuntu. Ubuntu just has the most marketing, due to Canonical. But, once I tried Mint, I deleted Ubuntu and never looked back.

VGRAUX
VGRAUX

and yes, I'm the second person who voted "neither" in the poll, because I prefer KDE or just X and a console and won't be gaming on *nix .

VGRAUX
VGRAUX

A *nix user confirms : Unity is crap and was deleted from my linux machines as soon as I saw it.

eCubeH
eCubeH

Uncluttered workspaces, switching workspaces on the press of a button, apps on call from fav.bar (about 12-14 max needed), other apps on demand from apps window - all of these make for a clean interface. Yes it could be more configurable etc etc, but its open source after all, DIY if its such a big deal! Ubuntu Unity? Really?

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

"[i]But the vast majority of end users didnt see it that way. And, in the end, even welcoming users like myself found the GNOME 3 desktop to be lacking in some areas.[/i]" Gnome brought this on themselves. If you don't listen to your users, don't be surprised if they abandon you. It seems like MS is planning to do the same. "[i]... and by 2020, Ubuntu Unity will probably be the de facto standard on most Linux desktops and tablets.[/i]" I'll be very surprised if that turns out to be true (on desktops). Most Linux users I know, HATE Unity. Most Windows users I know, HATE Metro. Even my housemate (who hates MS) is stunned by the awfulness of Metro. Have Gnome and MS been infiltrated by Apple agents? ;) :D

pgit
pgit

...and by 1959, all cars will have holes in their sides.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

But Valve's library becoming available on Linux Steam is going to motivate competitive game studios to look more seriously at offering native ports. Steam also gives Valve an accurate measure of market share and demand; how many Steam installs on Linux systems, how much of the available library has been sold to those Linux Steam users. They could even add in an option to flag wanted games showing non-Valve developers just how many Linux platform users are interested in paying for native code. Valve can't dictate that other studios port but they can demonstrate that it's foolish not too.

apotheon
apotheon

There are hundreds -- perhaps even thousands -- of choices. GNOME could evaporate tomorrow without making a scratch in the available options.

tbmay
tbmay

Having those codecs installed by default is a real time saver. It might be that it's not talked about too much because it really is Ubuntu+. I'm using the Mate desktop...which is basically gnome2 continued from the perspective of the end user. I don't like Unity. KDE's ok...but quite the resource pig. I once was an e2 user....but I don't care enough to customize a desktop that much any more. The truth is I don't much care what OS my desktop runs (Windows or *nix) ...let alone what Destop environment is on it....as long as the software I need to use is there.

pgit
pgit

...by never having installed ubuntu on any of my equipment in the first place. :) Didn't have to delete and format it. Mint is nice, superior to ubuntu IMHO, but I don't really use it in any production capacity, it's a toy in the lab. I use fedora 17 with gnome3, I figure if I'm going to use g3 I might as well get it from the source. I prefer g3 to cinnamon, and of course unity. I still like KDE best over all tho.

jasonbelt
jasonbelt

I second that statement. I have worked Fedora, Red Hat, Mandriva, Debian. openSUSE, CentOS and Ubuntu. I settled on, and now only use, Linux Mint due to its Cinnamon UI.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Boy, that's gonna make some nasty chewing gum. :D

apotheon
apotheon

The last thing we need now is another flamewar over the "One True Desktop Environment".

Gerry_z
Gerry_z

I considered voting neither, but, while I've never been a fan of gnome, I think games drive the desktop. I've been using KDE for about 5- 6 years. I'm not a gamer, but that has always been one thing I find keeps people on Windows. No games=no Linux for many people. While gaming support won't matter to me I suspect it will lure many new people if Metro is as bad as people seem to think it will be.

tsuujin
tsuujin

No, you're not. Gnome-Shell is a nifty interface and does its job very well. I used it for about a month. Unity is a bit smoother on the top level interface, and i particularly like how it integrates the task bar at the top of the screen into the window frame on a maximized window. Gives me more screen real-estate. The dash is inferior to Gnome-Shell's, though.

eldergabriel
eldergabriel

I find it much simpler and more intuitive than unity.

pgit
pgit

I despised gnome (2) from day one, absolutely hated it. But I love gnome3, I use if for certain tasks just about every day. I was an anti-gnome evangelist, I couldn't just let it lay, I was compelled to try to push people away from it. Gnome3 is the most revolutionary development to come along since the window and a start menu, IMHO. I hope someone gets multi touch going in gnome3, I believe g3 would be the ideal environment for a tablet form factor. (or even a large phone) It's smooth and logical, doubly so from a touch-enabled perspective. I'd bet if you could get g3 running on top of android you'd have the majority market share using it. Unity has it's good points, but just as gnome 2 I find it incredibly boring. I know that's not the most rational reason to use a desktop environment or not, but I find digging into tasks is more enjoyable when the DE makes it fun/interesting to get there.

tsuujin
tsuujin

When I first made the upgrade to 12.04 I hated unity. There was some quality about it that just made me loathe it. All of my friends agreed, and we trashed it and went to other window managers. Some time later a graphical issue came up from an issue with drivers, and for one reason or another didn't effect unity. So I started using it until I could fix the drivers... and fell in love with it. It's different, but it's also simple and clean with lots of shortcuts for power users. Gnome-Shell is also a good solution. Frankly I think the dash on Gnome-Shell is better than Unity's. If we could merge the two it would be heaven. At this point, all of the friends who bashed unity with me are now using it exclusively, and love it. All desktop changes are met with resistance, but that's simply because tech users ironically seem to loathe change. Unity is a great platform, once you get over yourself and give it a chance.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

an expensive working girl (off street type) or a star in adult films.

apotheon
apotheon

I like "cinnamint" toothpaste. I just don't want it on my laptop display.

pgit
pgit

Hadn't thought of that... apparently the mint devs didn't, either.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

"[b][i]Most Linux users I know, HATE Unity.[/i][/b]" I don't know you, therefore I wasn't speaking for you!

apotheon
apotheon

CBS wanted information about my clients to evaluate my eligibility to continue doing contracted writing work that I was not willing to provide, because of the confidentiality with which I maintain client information. re: the project . . . There are a few libraries I'll be using to reduce my workload. It helps that I'm planning to write it in Ruby (probably using the Sinatra framework), because the Ruby community as a whole has increasingly favored copyfree licenses, to the point that as of v1.9.3 the reference implementation of Ruby itself is copyfree licensed and it's actually relatively rare that I see a Ruby library release announcement for something that doesn't use a copyfree license.

pgit
pgit

more lament. I understand your absence, in fact I thank you for the amount of time you've been investing around here lately. I just hope you're rewarded in kind for your efforts. I still can't understand whatever the bur under CBS's saddle led to their decision. ps- sounds like a great project. Also sounds like you have to start from scratch, lest GPLs and such linger?

apotheon
apotheon

I like your response; it's equal parts compliment and chastisement. Of course, one of the reasons I'm not here as much any longer is that when CBS decided I was no longer eligible to write articles for TR, I no longer had my own articles' discussions to follow, which had become probably 50% of the time I spent here over the years. I'm spending more of the time I would otherwise spend here working on coding side-projects of my own, these days, though. One example: I'm making plans for a new project to develop a copyfree licensed combination publication and discussion system for the web.

pgit
pgit

"and what I perceive as a declining quality of discussion here have all conspired to make my interest wane." Of course your absence is a major factor in driving that quality down the incline... not that I'm sayin' anyone has a duty around here.

apotheon
apotheon

Yeah . . . I'm not here nearly as frequently as I once was. Interface issues, intermittent brokenness, and what I perceive as a declining quality of discussion here have all conspired to make my interest wane.